A serious, nuanced portrait of a family of creative people as their decisions, large and small, play out in their lives.

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LIFELINES

When her long-estranged ex-husband—a still-handsome German avant-garde musician—comes back into her life, things get complicated for Louise.

Louise, a 59-year-old visual artist in Eugene, Oregon, has two daughters, one from each of her marriages. Elke was born when Louise was an art student in Dusseldorf in the early 1970s. Not long after the birth, Louise's mother fell ill, so she took the baby and went home. Since things were going badly at the time with her new husband, Dieter, Louise ended up staying in the U.S. By the time Dieter showed up for a visit, she was dating Richard, a professor of urban design, and a messy period with both men on the scene ensued. But that was ages ago. She married Richard and had another daughter, Margot; Dieter ended up immigrating to New York. One day she gets a call from Elke, now 35, asking her to return to Germany to attend the funeral of her grandmother, Louise's ex-mother-in-law, with whom she was once close. Her other daughter happens to be in Europe at this time as well, touring with her experimental band, Sky Mall. Impulsively, Louise decides to go—leaving a jealous Richard stewing at home with a list of chores involving Louise's long-term conceptual art project. The novel moves between Dusseldorf and Eugene, between the early 1970s and 2008, with richly textured depictions of these times and places. Louise's student years were the era of the Baader-Meinhof gang and the disastrous '72 Olympics in Germany; the Grateful Dead and Nixon's resignation in the U.S.; and changing sexual mores in both cultures that led to difficult situations like the one she is still dealing with 35 years later. Another important theme is the burden of World War II on the German spirit, further complicated in Dieter's family by secrets and lies. Diehl's debut confidently handles these cultural and historical complexities and is equally fluent in depicting the concerns and processes of visual artists and musicians.

A serious, nuanced portrait of a family of creative people as their decisions, large and small, play out in their lives.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-48372-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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